Chess news 2022: Grandmaster Ilya Smirin sacked after ‘insulting’ commentary remark

Chess grandmaster Ilya Smirin has been sacked from his commentary gig after making several “highly insulting” remarks about female players during a live broadcast.

During the ninth round of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix event in Kazakhstan, Smirin admitted to saying chess was “maybe not for women” in a private conversation.

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The chess world has erupted over the comment with players publicly swatting away any such suggestion.

Popular female chess players, including Alexandra Botez and Anna Rudolf, have gained huge fanbases through streaming their matches on Twitch. Botez has more than 580,000 followers on Instagram.

The commentators were discussing whether Chinese chess player Zhu Jiner could become a grandmaster when Smirin, who was once ranked one of the world’s top 20 players, said: “She’s a woman grandmaster or what? … Why she wants to be like men grandmaster in this case?”

The Israeli’s fellow commentator, Woman International Master Fiona Steil-Antoni, asked: “You’re saying, you know, ‘Chess is maybe not for women’.”

Smirin replied: “I didn’t say it openly … in private, private conversation.”

Steil-Antoni then reminded Smirin that earlier he’d praised female grandmaster Aleksandra Goryachkin for “playing like a man”.

“That’s true,” he responded.

“She played in Russia super final. Small minus she made, but it was very strong tournament. She also had like 2,600 plus rating.”

Steil-Antoni continued: “What does that have to do with playing like a man, only men can play well?”

Smirin replied: “No, no. But she’s playing in style, positional style … But OK, I’m always curious, why can women play among men but men cannot play with women in women tournaments? Interesting question.”

The 54-year-old’s remarks copped heated backlash from the chess community, including former Women’s World Champion Susan Polgar.

“After multiple highly insulting & inappropriate comments during live commentary at one of the most important women’s events, swift action (public apology & immediate removal) must be swiftly taken before next game. Shockingly unacceptable!” she tweeted on Wednesday.

“For the record, I have known GM Smirin for more than three decades, including our college days in Minsk. I always had a good relationship with him and respected his chess. I hope that this is just a bad day. I would be highly sad and disappointed if this is how he truly feels.”

On Wednesday, the International Chess Federation released a statement confirming Smirin had been stood down from his commentary duties with immediate effect.

“During yesterday’s Women’s Grand Prix live broadcast, one of the announcers expressed some very embarrassing comments the statement read.

“Although we have great respect for Grandmaster Ilya Smirin as a chess player, the views he expressed on air are completely unacceptable, offensive, and do not represent any of the values that FIDE stands for. Therefore, we unreservedly apologise to all those who were offended. Additionally, GM Smirin will not continue as a FIDE commentator with immediate effect.

“FIDE not only strives to increase women’s representation in professional sports and official positions but also to change the perception of chess as purely a men’s world. Our community has to be a place where women feel safe and respected. Therefore, any action that carries disrespect, sexism or physical, verbal or emotional assault is unacceptable.”

Speaking to the BBC, Smirin confessed he “slightly puzzled” by the backlash he copped, revealing he had been labelled “racist, sexist and nationalist” since the incident.

“But what I said during the broadcasts was perhaps slightly impolite but nothing more,” he told the publication.

“And the most of it clearly was a joke. If we will continue like that, the very words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ risk to disappear rather soon. I want to stress that I did not want to hurt anyone, I love and respect chess and women. And I do not like hypocrisy.”

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